Writing Across Genders

Flip book for children

A man writing women’s fiction?

I am a man writing women’s commercial fiction. I never set out to trespass into a genre that is usually written ‘by women’ and ‘for women’, it just happened.

When I was a child we had flip books that showed us how bizarre gender stereotyping is. They don’t exist now in the same simplistic format, I presume because the gender specific portrayals they were based on are no longer acceptable. But if you based the characters on a man baking a cake, a female firefighter, a male nurse and a businesswoman, maybe it would still work – or maybe not.

I am just setting out the plot of a new novel, set around one hundred years in the future and the protagonist is not only female, but a teenager – as is the second most prominent character. This novel has a working title of Hannah’s Island. (NB now published)

The Bauhaus and Me

painting by George Adams of the Bauhaus

I was extraordinarily lucky to be mentored by George Adams in my first year of studying Art and Design. This was a designer and artist who had studied at the Weimar Bauhaus under Walter Gropius in the early 1920s.

Elements of his teachings are still in the forefront of my mind today, over fifty years later. He didn’t teach us how to draw, but how to think. More importantly he told us never to stop ‘playing’. That element of play in design, illustration, painting, creative writing and life itself are essential in allowing you to live fully.

In writing this allows characters to ‘take over’ the plot, to drive different storylines. You start off by being a puppeteer, you end up more like a puppet hanging on for the ride.

Thank you George Adams, you changed my life.

I was born in black and white

Bruce Aiken aged 4 or 5

I am a part of that post war, baby boom, privileged generation – except it wasn’t quite like that for everyone.

Silver spoons from which to sup were few and far between in the suburban hinterland between North Kent and London. The most common weed on our pavements was wheat, still trying to break through the asphalt from the corn fields our suburb replaced. Prefabricated building littered the area for those who had lost their homes in the WW2 air raids of London and half ruined buildings and bomb sites were our adventure playgrounds.

They were a lot of children. That meant many potential friends and about twice as many potential enemies for an isolated kid who didn’t understand social interactions (many, many years later I was diagnosed as sub clinically autistic, what was Aspergers) and not even my GP can explain exactly what that means.

I was educated at a now vanished Grammar School and subsequently at the University of the Arts, London. At my graduation show I was recruited by Pearson Longman, after a cursory interview in a room with no windows (it might have been a cupboard).

A few years later I founded an advertising agency in Bristol with a business partner as equally confused by life as I was, but that was all a bit too serious and it only lasted three years. Since then I have worked on freelance commissions from publishers, book packagers, corporations, manufacturers, tourism boards, charities, theatres, the NHS, car manufacturers, various museums and several festivals – I’ve lost track of the complete list.

Interspersed with this work I have lectured, drawn humorous postcards, worked in youth theatre and educational storytelling groups. Amidst all this I managed to marry, stay married, raise two children, two cats, several fish and, of course, I write.

Book design in Word

This is a long post, but it covers everything you need to change your original manuscript into a professional file for self-publication. All the stages are done as step-by-step guides. Follow the guides and it should all work out fine.


The most important task in preparing your book is to make it user-friendly. There are no absolute rules concerning typography, but there are rules of ‘good practice’. Unless you have a specific reason to be different, why experiment?

Basic typographic terms in a book

Chapter Headings
The font needs to be larger than the text. This really is one area where you can exercise your own aesthetic judgement, you can even change the typeface and nobody is going to throw up their hands in disbelief. I’m rather conservative. The chapter head is a signal to the reader that a new scene is starting, it’s not the announcement of a revolution. I’ve used the same typeface as the text (in my example Caslon) and only bumped the size to 12pt (the text is in 10.5pt).

Full-out paragraphs
The first paragraph of a chapter shouldn’t be indented. If you have a line break anywhere, the following paragraph should also be ‘full out’. (a line break is what you see here between sections – a blank line)

Indented paragraphs
Most paragraphs in your book will have an indent. I habitually used a 4mm indent.

There should be no extra space between paragraphs unless you are making a point ie a scene change. In this cases use a full line space.

Text must be justified
This means you get a straight line both sides of every paragraph (also known as justified left and right). Only break this rule in very special cases – maybe if you have a letter than is supposed to have been hand written, or a poem. In which case you can increase the indent and set it ranged left, unjustified right (sometimes also called ‘ragged right’).

Orphans and widows
These are words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left isolated at the top or bottom of a page. If this single word was the only one at the top of a page it would need to be dealt with (there is lots of advice on the web describing the various methods of resolving this). If the single word is at the foot of the page it isn’t quite such a problem, but will visually give you more white space at the bottom than on the adjacent page.

Page numbers or folios
Almost always positioned at the centre of a page in a novel, usually the same face and font as the text. Don’t get clever with them, they are functional not decorative.

Style sheets
These make formatting your text so much easier and it’s less likely you’ll get a rogue font or typeface creeping in. If you are not familiar with style sheets in MS Word it’s time to address that. On Google you will find many videos and blogs on this issue, but I have added guidance on this post also.


There are many factors governing the precise measurements for text pages and margins, but here are the basic terms you are going to come across.

Names for areas in a page layout

What size should my book be?
There are no hard and fast rules other than it makes good sense to opt for a ‘popular’ size. I would recommended 12.9cm x 19.8cm (5.1″ x 7.8″). This is called B Format and is common in both the US and UK. (this size has been traditionally used for ‘trade paperbacks’ in the US and ‘literary fiction’ in thr UK)

Don’t try to make these too small just in order to cram more text on a page. Again most print sites will make recommendations, often specifying minimum sizes. The inside margins (or gutter) will commonly be larger on a paperback than the outside margins as a tight binding can make it difficult to open a book flat. (those of you who habitually ‘break’ the spine when reading a paperback can skip this advice)

Suggested margin sizes for B Format layout
These will work for most print suppliers and are what I use for my novels. I’ve given measurements in inches and mm. (alternatively, just find a book that looks right to you and measure the margins and page size – then copy them)

Margins for a B format paperback


Micrwosoft Word may not look quite the same as shown here given that there are different versions of Word and different operating systems, but the principle stays the same. Assuming you have written your novel on the standard A4 page size (or US equivalent) and in a default font and typeface like 12pt Times – the next step is to set the page size you’ve chosen and suitable margins. I will go through this using a B Format page size and standard margins.

It looks daunting, but this really is a stage-by-stage guide and you start by getting the page size correct

1) Select Layout on the ‘ribbon’ (the menu at the top of your Word window) and the Size tab. On the drop down menu click on More Paper Sizes.

Microsoft Word set page size

2) This will bring up a dialogue box with the ‘Paper‘ tab on top of the panel already selected. From the drop down menu choose Custom Size. Then type in the page width and height – in this case I’ve used the B Fornat sizes (you can use mm, cm or inches as you prefer – I’ve used cm).

Setting the page size in Microsoft Word

3) Click the ‘Layout‘ tab on top of the panel. Make sure the box that says ‘Different odd and even’ is checked as this applies to the whole page layout and allows you to have a wider centre gutters on a double page spread (i.e. an open book).

Microsoft Word, odds evens, headers, footers

The other thing you have to do here is set the Header and Footer spaces (they are usually set as defaults of 1.25cm). On a novel you rarely use a Header, so set that to 0, but you will want to put page numbers in so set the Footer to 1.5cm. When you get to refine the layout you may want to change the Footer space or even add a header; this is a simple process that can be tweaked later.

5) Now click the ‘Margins‘ tab on top of the panel.
This where you set the margins and add the extra space for the gutter. Word sets the margins for left and right the same on every page, so you enter the width you need for the ‘outside margins’. Then you add the extra you need for the inside margins in the gutter space. (leave the gutter position as ‘Left’)

Page design in MS Word

Example: If you want an outside margin of 1.5cm and an inside margin of 2.0cm you must set both to 1.5cm and then add an extra 0.5cm gutter so that the inside margins will become 2.0cm.

That will have set the page and margins in your Word document, but it’s still in 12pt Times with whatever default line spacing you had at the start. It will not yet look like a proper paperback book, so you now need to change the typeface, font, spacing, add folios and adjust indents, justification and chapter headings. It sounds harder than it is.

pages and margins

The margins appear larger on the outside of a pair of pages because Word is not strictly a publishing programme and is not set up to display your book with page one as a right hand page. It will work fine when it’s all done.


Setting up ‘Style Sheets’ for your novel is well worth the initial effort as they will help you avoid introducing the wrong font or typeface into your text. Also you can amend the Style definition and it will correct the text throughout your entire book. (so if you have a last minute change of mind on the typeface or font it’s really easy to change everything)

In a novel there are only a handful of different paragraph layouts used in text. The basic three paragraph formats you will need are:

1 Indented paragraphs – An indent on the first line allows the reader to ‘see’ each paragraph separately. (usually about 4mm, but a matter of individual choice)

2 Full-out paragraphs – These are the paragraphs that have no indent. The first paragraph after a chapter head and any paragraph after a line space.

3 Chapter headings – Conventionally centred on the measure (a term for the width of a full line of type) and larger than the text font.

I number them so that they appear at the front of the list of styles in Word.

1 Setting the Indented Paragraph Style (the most frequently used)

The first thing to do is select the Home tab and click on the small arrow at the bottom right of the Styles panel.

Setting style sheets

This will bring up a drop down menu where you click on Create a Style

Creating style sheets

In the new dialogue box name your new style 3 Indented para and click Modify.

New style name

In the next panel you can set:
The typeface (I’d suggest Garamond)
The font, or size (11pt would be a good choice)
Click on the icon for justified text (straight left and right edges)
Then click finally click on Format and choose Paragraph from the pop up menu

set font and typeface

In the next panel, from the Special drop down menu, select First line and specify 0.4 cm (this will give your first line an indent of 0.4cm).

From the second drop down menu for Line spacing select Exactly and specify 13pt. This will add 2pt of leading (or extra space) between each line of text.

Check that the Spacing in the Before and After boxes are set to 0 (there might be a default of 10pts in either or both)

Before clicking OK you need to select the Line and Page Breaks tab at the top of the panel and uncheck the box named Widow/Orphan control. This will prevent Word from automatically moving lines of text from one page to another. You need to control this function yourself.

Line spacing and indents

Now click OK and OK again to get back to your document. Highlight all the text in your document (ctrl+A) and click on your new Style 3 Indented paragraph. Your whole document should now have the same style throughout – indented paragraphs.

2 Setting the Full-out Paragraph Style

It gets easier from here on as we can base the next Style on the previous one. You can see that I have deleted all unwanted styles in the Word default style panel. You can do this by right clicking each style and chosing Remove from style gallery. This is not for all, but I find it makes it neater and easier

First make sure that the first full paragraph is highlighted (treble click on it). Next thing is to click on that small arrow again.

setting full-out paragraph style

This will bring up a familiar dialogue box for a new style. Call this 2 Full out paragraph (you can of course choose your own name for any style) Then click Modify

create new style

Name should show 2 Full out paragraph (you just named it that)
Style based on should show 3 Indented paragraph (you selected that in the text)
Style for following paragraph should show 2 Full out paragraph
Now click on Format and Paragraph

format and paragraph settings

You only need to make one change here. From the Special menu select None. This will remove the indent from the first line.

remove indent panel

Click OK then OK again. You now have two Styles for your book and it’s beginning to look more like the real thing.

two paragraph styles set

3 Chapter heads

Highlight your chapter head. Click on the small arrow in the bottom right of the Styles pane and select Create a Style. (this is familiar territory by now)

setting chapter head style

Name it 1 Chapter heads and click on Modify.

naming chapter head style

First is to set the Style based on and the Style for following paragraph as shown by using the drop down menus. We base both on 2 Full out paragraph because a) we don’t want any indents and b) the chapter heading will usually be followed by a full-out paragraph (if you are having chapter subheads you may want to tweak this).

Next change the size (font) to 16pt (or however big you want the chapter heads to be – you may even want to make them bold or use another typeface)
Change to centred type by clicking the little icon below the typeface

Click Format and choose Paragraph next.

formatting style sheet

Because you chose to base this on the Style 2 Full out paragraph you should already have (none) in the Indentation Special box (if not, choose this from the drop-down menu).

The Spacing > After needs to be increased as you want a space between the chapter head and the first paragraph (I’ve used 65pt). This needs to be a multiple of the line spacing (13pt) so that the lines of type match across a double page spread.

Select the Line and Page Breaks tab and check Page break before as you will want each chapter to start on a new page.

Click OK and OK again. You now have your three main styles set up for your book.

space after chapter heading

That was the last hurdle – unless you want to go on to make a specific Styles for Chapter subheads, italic paragraphs or even indented paragraphs.

NB If you have added bold text or italics in some of your writing, applying a Style will probably remove those. You may need to go back through your work and manually adjust them again.

Your typical page should now look more like this, with your three Style sheets showing in the Styles pane.

completed formatted page

Now you can highlight any paragraph in your book (or multiple paragraphs) and click on a style sheet to change them.


These are the opening pages of your book before you get to the story. They vary from book to book and used to be numbered with Latin numerals, but now we tend to leave the numerals off the prelims. Your text should start on a right-hand page by tradition.

Prelim order for a paperback

This is a modern standard layout for prelims. although there are no rules and all sorts of things might need be incorporated in your novel like a family tree of the characters if it’s a dynasty novel or a list of other titles published by yourself.

The golden rules (although rules are made to be broken)
Title page – always on the right-hand side (in case the cover is lost?)
Imprint – always on a left-hand page
Chapter 1 – always on a right-hand page (usually with a blank page to the left of it)

What you need to include:
Title page – Title and Author (can be a reflection of the front cover in style)
Imprint – A copyright statement (see below) and date of publication. You can always put your contact details here if you wish. There are almost as many forms of copyright statement as there are publishers, but this one covers the bases so you can cut and paste from here.

Typical copyright statement
Copyright © Your Name 2018
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


The traditional practice is to have the numbering of pages starting on the first page of Chapter One. This is relatively simple in Word, but there are a number of stages to get where you want to be.

The first thing to do is work out what you want in your prelims and add all that in before you do anything else – see here for suggestions as to suitable content.

Shown below are the completed prelims for a book using a page break command to force content onto a new page when required. Circled is the ‘show invisibles’ option on the ‘Home’ tab. This helps you to see what you’re doing.

showing invisibles in Word

To make your main text start at page one you need to split the document into sections.

Select the Layout tab.
Place your cursor at the very start of Chapter One to the left of the left of the heading..
From the Breaks drop-down menu choose

creating a section break

The ‘invisibles’ will now show ‘Section Break (Next Page)’.

section break visible

Next double-click in the ‘footer’ area for Chapter One. (your cursor will now be in the footer area)
You will see that your Chapter One now is the first page of ‘Section 2’
The tab just above the ‘Footer’ panel shows ‘Same as Previous’
Click ‘Link to Previous’ in the ribbon (top of screen) to deactivate that link.

footer area for section break

The ‘Same as Previous’ tab should now have disappeared. From the drop-down menu under Page Number select Bottom of Page (Plain Number 2)

footer link removed

You’re not quite there because it will not show as page number 1 – in my case is says 7
You will have to go to the Page Number drop-down menu again and Format Page Numbers.

format page numbers

You now have a small dialogue box where you need to select Start atrather than Continue from previous section – then click OK

continue from previous section

Your Chapter One opening page now shows as page 1
But your next page has no page number
This is because we need different odd and even pages to make the centre margins work.

Repeat the process for the next page by putting your cursor in the footer area.
Click on Link to Previous in the Ribbon to deselect it.
Go to Page Number (on Ribbon) > select Bottom of Page > Plain Number 2 as before
Your pages should all now be numbered from your opening page to the end of your book.


We need to format the page numbers as they may be in the wrong typeface and font.
Simply double-click on the page number and a dialogue box will appear.
Change the typeface and size to the same as your main text.
All the odd-numbered pages will change.

format page numbers

Do the same for the first even-numbered page.
All the page numbers will now be in the correct typeface and size.


Your page numbers may be tucked up far too close to close to your text.
This is a function of the specified bottom margin and the Footer panel size.
Both can be adjusted quite easily and without affecting anything else on your document.

If you set up your page margins from this site you will have a Bottom Margin of 1.8 cm and a Footer of 1.5 cm. This means is there is only 0.3 cm (3mm, 1/8″) between the bottom of the text and the page number. To make the page number drop lower, all we need to do is change the Footer size.

Choose the Layout tab on the Ribbon
Then Margins > Custom Margins
We still want Different odd and even ticket, but change the Footer to 0.5 cm

Your page number is now in a much better position.

final tweaks to folios

NB There are built-in minimum margins in Word, sometimes depending on what printer you use, so some of these measurements may be trial and error. All margins can be tweaked at the end of this whole process, so there is no need to start from scratch if a margin looks slightly wrong.

So that’s it. Save your file as a PDF and upload it.